Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Last Sunday night, Iraqi government forces — with the help of Popular Mobilization Units aligned with Iran — retook the disputed city of Kirkuk. In this effort they benefited from the tacit cooperation of Kurdish military forces, known as peshmerga, who are loyal to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The PUK is the historic rival of the Kurdistan Democratic Party under the leadership of Masoud Barzani, who is also the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

The KRG, as it is known, is an autonomous region of Iraq, but many people there want much more than that. On Sept. 25, the KRG held a referendum on independence in which 93 percent of voters affirmed their desire to break away from Iraq. Baghdad’s military operations were part of an effort to forestall that outcome, especially since Kirkuk is not actually part of the KRG, but fell into Kurdish hands after the self-declared Islamic State overran parts of northern Iraq in June 2014 and Iraqi troops there fled.

Within hours after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the operation to secure Kirkuk, KDP-loyal peshmerga were forced to concede the city, an airbase and the oil fields in the area. It was a triumph for Abadi and an ignominious defeat for Barzani. The central government, having restored control (loosely defined), as it existed before the Islamic State’s invasion, now says it is time for negotiations between Baghdad and the Kurdish leadership in Erbil. It is unclear whether or how that can happen, with Barzani greatly weakened and Kurdish politics thrown into mutual recriminations and accusations of betrayal.  READ MORE…

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